Because I was wasting my workday on the Breaking Copy blog, I discovered a reality TV series called The Pitch, which matches ad agencies in head-to-head competitions for campaign work — in this case a Subway gig.

I haven’t played the agency game for a long time (though I’m still pitching clients), and frankly, I enjoyed the show mostly because I hated the game when I was in it.

Apparently, I take comfort in the suffering of others.

Subway wanted to sell breakfast to 18-24 year-olds (the most over-pursued, under-funded demographic on the planet), and they foisted this dust bunny of a problem on two ad agencies: McKinney and WDCW.

Right off the bat, we saw the agency principals default to their younger creative teams, the idea being anyone over 35 couldn’t possibly sell stuff to 18-24 year olds. It’s an attitude that infects the industry now more than ever (apparently old people can’t operate Twitter).

After recently cleaning up the damage wrought by a pair of under-30 social media gurus, you can imagine my feelings on the subject. (At one point, an agency head says “The world is not kind to advertising agencies.” He should have said “Advertising agencies are not kind to over-40 creatives.”)

Amusingly, the winning team played right to stereotype; they used their creative powers to search the Internet, essentially outsourcing the creative burden to a puffy YouTube rapper with a viral pancake breakfast video (really).

That other concept produced by the winning agency? Dreck.

So much for the myth of youthful creative enterprise.

A Couple Observations

  • It’s disconcerting to be reminded just how bad creatives are at presentations (even to their own staff).

  • We see the angst of the agency principals but remain one step removed from the real crucible — the creative offices. Sadly, we saw little in the way of sweating, pained creatives.

  • McKinney’s Chief Creative Director comes off badly; an arrogant jerk to his employees and a horrendously bad pitcher at the client’s. I actually winced.

  • WDCW’s leader (Tracy Wong) makes a wonderful statement about John Wooden-style leadership; you don’t talk in terms of win or lose, you just do everything you can, take the shot, and forget what happens next.

“I’d Like To Thank The Academy”

My take? The wrong agency won. I thought WDCW’s Breakfast zAMbie concept had more legs than McKinney’s rapper “freestyle” concept. The ability to move campaigns across traditional media and multiple digital channels is critical, and some of those digital channels are narrow.

ZAMbie was funny, the word could easily enter the lexicon, the campaign tapped into the zombie zeitgeist, and you could take it anywhere.

I think the client copped to all this when he said the decision could have gone the other way had not McKinney demonstrated some unseen (by us) “strategic” insight.

Things, it seems, are never what they appear to be.

I’ve been involved in pitches where I’d bet my retirement fund we killed it, yet if I had, I could look forward to living on the street twenty years from now.

Keep creating, Tom Chandler.